Earth Day 2005 Sustainability at Cal Poly

James G. Harris

April 22, 2005


What is the significance of Cal Poly signing the Talloires Declaration?


As a representative of the faculty I would like to add my thanks to the administration of Cal Poly for their support of the activities today in commemoration of the first year anniversary of the signing of the Talloires Declaration.  In particular, Kate Lancaster and Steve Marx have done a great job in putting this wonderful event together in a very short time.  The quick response of the university community to the call for participation clearly demonstrates that there are a lot of sustainability activities on campus.  I suggest that this is a notable event in the growth of Cal Poly.


What is the significance of Cal Poly signing the Talloires Declaration?  I would like to answer this question from two perspectives.  The first perspective is to look back into this first year, and its impact on the faculty and academic departments at Cal Poly.  I will use the faculty and the Department of Electrical Engineering as an example.  The second perspective is to look into the future, and for this we propose a course of action for Cal Poly that will guarantee significance for the future, not only for Cal Poly, but the surrounding community in San Luis Obispo County.


First, let us look back at the past year.  Provoked by the announcement in the Spring of 2004 that Cal Poly had joined 300 plus other universities over the world as a signature of the Talliores Declaration, the faculty of the Electrical Engineering Department voted to express their support for the principles of the declaration.  They agreed upon the following paragraph which I would like to read to you in its entirety:


"The faculty of the Cal Poly Electrical Engineering Department supports the practice of sustainable engineering, respectful of the earth's limited resources and the greater good of humanity.  We commit to the teaching of engineering principles and design objectives consistent with the efficient and non-polluting use of energy, water, air, mineral, agricultural and land resources.  We encourage and support student projects, senior projects, student club and extra-curricular activities, which embrace and advance sustainable engineering principles and objectives. We also encourage less consumption as an important part of more sustainable practices."


The EE faculty has responded in many ways: adopting sustainability into their existing work, reviewing the curriculum, enhancing previous activities and preparing for future activities, and using sustainability to focus senior project and masters thesis projects.  Here is a brief set of examples to illustrate these points.  The Electrical Power Institute is the first center or institute established at Cal Poly.  Its current director is Professor. Ahmad Nafisi.  Under his leadership the EPI has embraced the concept of sustainability.  Projects already underway studying solar photovoltaic panels and hydrogen fuel cells, have been focused on the broader issues of energy sustainability.  In addition, the EPI faculty has been developing new curricula to recognize the broader view of sustainable energy.


The curriculum committee is in the process of incorporating sustainability into the core learning objectives of the EE program.  It should be noted that our accreditation organization ABET will be including sustainability in its criteria for design for future accreditation visits.  Four of the last six offerings of the EE 563 Graduate Seminar have required the graduate students to perform scholarship on sustainability, focusing on the study of sustainable engineering, sustainable energy, and sustainable energy for San Luis Obispo County.  This effort was made possible by the active support of Dr. Deanna Richards, who spoke earlier on the Center for Sustainability in Engineering, and Dr. BK Richard, who is on the Board of Directors of the San Luis Obispo Land Conservancy.  The seminar presentations are available on my website, and it is hoped that they can be a valuable resource for others.


In the area of personal impact, Professor Art MacCarley has for many years been active in research on sustainable transportation systems: electric busses and cars, efficient diesel engines, and the use of methanol as a fuel.  He has been an active club advisor in many student clubs which address issues of sustainability, including the electric car club.   Professor Taufik was involved in the initial phases of the Solar Decathlon development.  Professor David Braun, who has solar power at his home and rides his bike to campus, is preparing himself to teach in one of the multidisciplinary courses focused on sustainable topics; he devoted his sabbatical proposal to this preparation.


The Department now requires senior project students to address sustainability as one of the components of consideration.  One example of this activity is the wireless sensor network project working under the auspices of the Network Performance Research Laboratory.  Thanks to the support of Drs. John Seng and Diana Franklin of the Computer Science Department, CrossBow technology is being shared to support the development of a prototype wireless sensor network.   Working with the assistance of two EE graduate students: Rafael Kaliski and Jose Becerra, four EE senior project students: Aurelio Hafalia, David Oraboni, Wesley Leung and Bryan Nagaishi, are developing this prototype wireless sensor network, and plan to demonstrate it at the end of this quarter.  Applications for this technology have been discussed with Professor Brian Ditterick, Director of the Swanson Pacific Ranch, for environmental monitoring of the ranch, Professor Virginia Walter for environmental control of the Cal Poly greenhouses, Professor Margot McDonald and Mary Alice Avila for architectural environmental monitoring. It is expected that this project will continue and expand its technical reach into other areas of sustainability. 


These are only some examples of the impact that the signing of the Talliores Declaration has had this past year on one department and its faculty and students.  It also demonstrates the inherent multidisciplinary nature of work in the area of sustainability.



This brings us to the second perspective on the significance of the signing of the Talloires Declaration by Cal Poly, that of the future. In conversations on sustainability and Cal Poly with Dr. BK Richard, mentioned earlier in conjunction with his assistance in the graduate seminar, a concept developed which I would like to share with you today.  The basic idea is to have Cal Poly use San Luis Obispo County as a laboratory for the study of sustainability.  This idea is completely compatible with, and supports the principles of the Talloires Declaration.  As the goal for this study, Cal Poly working together with the community of San Luis Obispo County can strive for sustainability for the county in all its aspects by the year 2050.  This means sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, sustainable architecture, and all the other aspects that can achieve a sustainable society.


This is a very daunting challenge for a goal since it is not a well defined problem.  Even if the problem could be well-defined, the implementation of its solution certainly will be difficult with all the current vested interests in the status quo. However, the goal of a sustainable San Luis Obispo County by 2050 can be stated, and the community can be educated as to its meaning and consequences. This phase of the challenge should remind us of the challenge expressed in 1961by President Kennedy: to send a person to the moon and return them safely by the end of the decade.  Once the public understood the goal, and its consequences in the context of the Cold War, the nation supported the successful Apollo program.  And the goal was achieved in 1969 with Apollo 11 landing on the moon and returning.  Certainly, the historical context for stating the goal of a sustainable San Luis Obispo County is not the same.  There is no external threat, only the threat that we bring upon ourselves.


I suggest that considering San Luis Obispo County as our laboratory for research in sustainability is a near perfect plan.  While there will continue to be the need for basic research to support the goal of sustainability in 2050, I would suggest that the most important type of research needed will be that of applied research.  And applied research is part of our polytechnic mission as a comprehensive primarily undergraduate university with our emphasis on undergraduate education.  The nature of this research is part of  the charter of all our faculty, no matter what the discipline.  The work of this applied research can be accomplished with the use of students performing their senior projects and masters thesis.  Just name a discipline at Cal Poly, and you can see where its scholarship can be used to achieve the goals of a sustainable county by 2050.  


Just observe the variety of activities, both curricular and co-curricular, presented here today.  Image if they all were focused on the same goal, working towards a sustainable San Luis Obispo County by 2050.  We all can think of examples where each of us doing what we  do best can accomplish amazing results if all our efforts are focused on one goal.  I propose that we at Cal Poly adopt the goal of achieving a sustainable San Luis Obispo County in 2050, we can perform great work, both for our students and the community.


In summary, to answer the question of what is the significance of Cal Poly signing the Talloires Declaration, we have looked back over the past year to review the impact in one department as an example.  We have also looked forward, and have proposed that Cal Poly consider San Luis Obispo County as a learning laboratory, with a goal to make the county sustainable by the year 2050.  I hope you look forward as much as I do to continuing this conversation.  Thank you again for this opportunity to speak today.